For those of us fortunate enough to be at St Cross on the 22nd December, this outstanding concert by SANSARA shone like a light over our Christmas. What marks SANSARA out is its approach to the music. Conducting shared, and the ability to allow the music to breathe. Measured tempi, but never excessive.
For some, the mostly dissonant repertoire here might have been a challenging listen. However, because the singing is so perfect, this matters not. Like rippling water, the sound - some familiar, some less - envelops you, particularly when the group spreads out and fills both side aisles, singing as one. This is exceptional and remarkable ensemble work and has become a hallmark of the choir since it was formed. Of this concert’s eighteen pieces, including the encore, only two were pre 20th century, by Tallis and Mouton from the fifteen hundreds.
Mouton’s Nesciens Mater, which began the second half, has become a favoured example of the choir’s finest singing as one in surround sound. Impeccable. But then whether around you, at the west end, or in front, the quality remains.
Flowing through the evening were works from the twentieth and twenty first centuries by Cecilia McDowell, Eric Whitacre, Bob Chilcott, Franz Biebl. In revelatory detail we were treated to the favourites Warlock’s Bethlehem Down, Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium, Tavener’s The Lamb, Rutter’s What sweeter music.
Geoffrey Keating’s arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas was punctuated with the entertaining and irascible correspondence by John Julius Norwich. They were read here superbly by Lucia Quinault. Funny and fitting. What a way for SANSARA’s Fifth Anniversary Concert to leave you smiling into Christmas.
- James Montgomery